Rubén de J. Del Pozo Mendoza
President
AIMMGM (Association of Mining Engineers, Metallurgists and Geologists of Mexico, Zacatecas District)
/
Expert Contributor

Natural Protected Areas: Good Idea, Bad Strategy

By Rubén de J. Del Pozo Mendoza | Wed, 01/20/2021 - 14:00

Concern for the environment, its conservation and its diversity has led to the creation of Natural Protected Areas (NPAs) in our country, with the aim of achieving benefits for present and future generations in the conservation of flora and fauna, natural landscapes, biological processes, recreation opportunities and educational and research opportunities.

However not all projections work as planned. First and foremost, depending on the category in which the area to be protected is located, consideration must be given to whether or not the inhabitants should be relocated and if the resolution is positive; and to the costs of the new infrastructure and the economic activities that provide the necessary resources for the families to live on. In the 1970s, problems arose because the areas to be protected were not properly selected and delimited and were, therefore, sometimes surrounded by agricultural or grassland, which prevented the proper development of the area and its inhabitants. Another problem with this bad planning was that it was not known how much land some animals needed to develop, so in many cases, the surface was insufficient and the area failed to preserve its wildlife.

The problems of the communities are still present, but some others have been annexed; the first is that the areas projected as reserves become tourist areas and it is necessary to create recreation activities for visitors, including, without a doubt, tours within the area, either on foot or by ATVs or other vehicles or means. The lack of care and organization caused havoc from these tours, from the destruction of the flora and fauna because of the vehicles to the contamination from the tourists. This deterioration, as minimal as it might be, does not have a restoration plan.

However, the most serious problem is that which plagues the entire country: drug trafficking. In a study by Milenio, journalist Victor Hugo Michel documents that since 2006, 109 clandestine laboratories producing synthetic drugs have been found in federal protected areas. The problem of drug trafficking also undermines the efforts to conserve the environment and fauna, as is the case of the Gulf of California and the Colorado River Delta, the only refuge of the vaquita.

According to reports, the waste produced by methamphetamines is between 2.5 and 3.5kg for every 500g of product. Some of these compounds are dumped into the water or soil and can contaminate aquifers or animal feed sources with elements such as acetone, sulfuric acid, ammonium sulfate, freon, sodium hydroxide and methanol, as well as muriatic acid, lithium metal, ether, trichloroethane and toluene. Other studies, including a report published by El Informador, point out the negligence of the environmental authorities in restoring the sites affected by the laboratories of synthetic drugs. Although it has not been specified how many of these affectations are found in each NPA, it is known that in the Spring Forest and the Monarch butterfly area, 23 laboratories have been found in the last six years. Despite the detection of the damage and contamination from the production of drugs, the indispensable work for the restoration of the environment that can cost up to US$150,000 has not been carried out.

Within the areas that have been identified with problems of this type are the Spring Forest, Gulf of California and Colorado River Delta, Valle de los Cirios, Baja California; the Crossroads and Tacaná volcano, on the border between Guatemala and Chiapas; the National Marshes, Nayarit; the Chichinautzin Biological Corridor in Morelos; the Cerro de las Campanas and Sierra Gorda, Queretaro; the Nevado de Toluca, State of Mexico; and the Biosphere Reserve of San Pedro Mártir Island, in the Sea of Cortes.

THE RISK

In Mexico, the intention is to decree 8 million hectares as new NPAs, with one of the projects in Zacatecas. As pointed out in the Preliminary Justification Study, the ambition is to decree a Biosphere Reserve, the most extensive surface in history at almost 2.5 million hectares, which would contribute 31 percent of the territory for this new project. However, it is undeniable that mining areas would be affected, drastically reducing their economic activities that are so necessary for the state. An important point to highlight is the contradiction that exists between the Prior Justifying Study and the Program for General Ecological Land Management (POEGT), whose modification in the Official Gazette of the Federation on Sept. 7, 2012, gave the north of Zacatecas and part of the adjacent states a mainly mining and livestock vocation; which in the aforementioned study is not only not considered, but is omitted knowing that the vocation of the land is one of the main factors that determine whether or not a territory can become a Natural Protected Area.

In addition to the above, it is worrying that there is no strategy to manage and monitor the area projected in the previous study and that the resources to manage the project come mostly from donations. Experience has taught us that projects with such extensive areas, without a defined program and without resources to manage them, are conducive to illegal activities that are more harmful to the environment and to the population.

THE PROPOSAL

With respect to the actions of mining in environmental matters, the impact that it generates is widely regulated by laws and continuously supervised by the competent institutions, favoring a relationship with nature that is perfectly controlled. Additionally, most of the mining companies maintain programs using their own resources for the care of the flora and fauna in the places where they operate continuously, which allows for success in the results sought; most of them have nurseries in their operations, where they can produce half a million trees per year, with some exceeding 4 million. In the last six years, the mining sector has planted 10 million trees, which makes it the third-largest sector (after the Mexican Armed Forces and the wood industry) in terms of tree-planting projects. Similarly, in aid of wildlife and the preservation of an ecological balance, Management Units for Wildlife Conservation (UMA) have been developed. Some species in danger of extinction that are served by these programs are:

- The Mexican wolf or the pronghorn in Sonora.

- The chacual duck and ashy heron in Chihuahua.

- The Sahuaros, cenitas and different cacti in Sonora and San Luis Potosi.

- The Noa (agave) in Torreon.

- El Palo Fierro (tree with ferrous content) in Guerrero.

Protected areas are not exempt from man's power to profit or destroy, and it is the federal government's great responsibility to consider and monitor all the implications of a project of this magnitude.

With the history of successful conservation programs that some mining companies have had, one solution to the issue of environmental vigilance is the cooperation between communities and industries for the creation of new conservation programs, where the inhabitants themselves are responsible for the care and reforestation of the protected areas. To this end, it is suggested that part of the new taxes now paid by the industry be allocated to natural projects, and managed in such a way as to create a sustainable plan and a healthy coexistence between the industry, the environment and inhabitants. This would provide additional income and protect areas of ecological interest from the real predators.